What things can involve defamation?
Defamation can happen whenever material is published that causes harm to someone else's reputation. You can defame a person without mentioning their name or without meaning to cause any harm. Publication can include:
- writing, including on the internet (for example, on social media such as Facebook)
- photographing, or
Things like gossip or embarrassing stories are unpleasant, but do not amount to defamation unless they cause the required harm to your reputation.
Are there defences to defamation?
In some situations, a person can make statements that harm your reputation without being defamatory. For example:
- If the comments are shown to be substantially true.
- If the comments were made or published under some form of legal privilege. Privilege occurs in situations when the law protects people's rights to express themselves, such as a speech in parliament or statements made in a court of law.
- If the publication involves fair reporting about proceedings of public concern or from documents that are already publicly available.
- If the publication is partly protected by privilege, such as making reasonable comments about work performance to a potential employer as a referee.
Defamation claims and defences are complicated and technical. You should get legal advice about your situation.
Do time limits apply to take legal action?
If you have been defamed, you can go to court to ask for compensation for the harm caused. Strict time limits apply. You should get legal advice if you are thinking of beginning court action for defamation or defending an accusation.
What can I do if I am being harassed, threatened or defamed online?
You do not have to put up with being harassed, threatened or defamed online. You should take action to try to stop it.
- Ask the person to remove the comments or information you do not like. If they refuse, contact the site administrator and ask them to remove the information.
- Tell a teacher, the principal or your school counsellor if you are a school student and the person who made the comments is also at your school. They may be able to help have the information removed.
- Use the Office of the eSafety Commissioner online complaints system to:
- report cyber bullying and
- remove offensive or illegal content from the internet.
Some harassment or threats may break criminal laws.
Can defamation be a criminal offence?
In Western Australia, there is an offence of criminal defamation to cover the publication of some defamatory matter about another living person. If someone has made offensive or threatening statements they may have also committed other offences.
If you think someone has broken the law, you can report the incident to your local police or call Crime Stoppers WA on 1800 333 000.
What if someone has shared personal information about me from my medical records?
You could contact the person and ask them to not pass on personal information. You may be able to make a complaint about the medical information being improperly disclosed to the person who has been telling people about it.
Reviewed: 12 October 2022